Judge rules George Sheldon eligible for attorney general primary

A Leon County circuit judge ruled Friday that George Sheldon has no residency issues that disqualify him from running and serving as Florida attorney general.

“I’m thinking of all the jury excuses that I hear as a judge, day in and day out, from people who work out of their home, people who work out of state, truck drivers that are out three to four months at a time,” said Chief Judge Charles A. Francis. “But their home is right here. They reside right here. I think in this case, Mr. Sheldon’s residence is where he’s resided in Tallahassee except when he worked out of state. He still came back to Tallahassee and stayed at the house he owned, and maintained.”

The ruling was a blow to supporters of Sheldon’s Democratic primary opponent, Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston. Last week, they filed a lawsuit that sought to remove Sheldon, 67, from the Aug. 26 primary ballot because of a technicality involving where he lived.

In May, the Florida Bar determined that Sheldon had been delinquent in taking and reporting his continued learning education credits and notified him that he was no longer eligible to practice law in Florida.

In July, Sheldon learned that his license had lapsed. To reinstate it, he signed an exemption that stated he had been a nonresident living in Washington, D.C., from 2011 to October 2013 while working in his $179,000 job as an acting assistant director at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Florida Constitution requires that candidates who run for attorney general live in the state the preceding seven years and are members of the Florida Bar for five continuous years. The lawsuit alleged that Sheldon didn’t meet those requirements. Attorney Johnny McCray argued Friday that when Sheldon qualified to run in June, he couldn’t practice law in Florida because of his lapsed membership.

“It’s undisputed he didn’t qualify,” McCray said.

Francis, however, sided with Sheldon’s attorney, Ron Meyer, that the Constitution only requires lawyers be members of the Florida Bar, which Sheldon was despite his delinquency.

The case has proven a distraction for both candidates. The winner will face Republican incumbent Pam Bondi, who has raised $5.4 million, or about 10 times as much as Thurston and Sheldon combined.

McCray said he’ll likely appeal.